In this week leading into Labor Day weekend, never the most action-packed in the year before the presidential election, the campaign looks to focus on three major developing areas. The ongoing struggle over the definition of the latest phase of the Iraq War, the timing of the early primaries, and the development of Fred Thompson’s long-in-the-making candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.
First to Mr. Thompson and his nascent campaign, once said to be readying an announcement around the 4th of July, seems set for an announcement not long after Labor Day.
Now on his third campaign manager, Thompson continued his run-up to a formal candidacy last week with appearances at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Indianapolis and the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City. He didn’t make a lot of headlines at either appearance. At the VFW, he was overshadowed by Democrat Barack Obama, appearing the same day, who tried the time-honored trick of telling the crowd what they did not want to hear. Namely, that he will begin a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Thompson, of course, took an opposite tack, arguing to stay the latest course.
It was no surprise who got more attention. While most of the crowd didn’t like the substance of what Obama said, they responded respectfully.
Although it’s hard to be sure with the repeated almost launches, it now looks like Thompson will formally announce his candidacy for president via an online video. Then he will follow up with a tour of early primary and caucus states. His first appearance in a Republican presidential debate is likely to be in late September.
Needless to say, he won’t take part in the Texas Republican straw poll on August 31st.
While at times earlier this year in this lengthy run-up to candidacy Thompson has appeared to be close to or even in the lead — in the Rasmussen robopoll, which uses automated calling of poll respondents –, he now seems to be running significantly behind Rudy Giuliani in national polls. As in the latest Fox News poll (pdf file), in which Giuliani leads Thompson, 29% to 14%.
But national polls can turn very quickly depending upon the results of the early contests, and Thompson and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are highly competitive in the early states of Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and New Hampshire.
Speaking of the early states, Florida is trying to crash its way into the first group of four, with its legislature and governor adopting a plan to move the Sunshine State’s presidential primary to January 29th, a move that might cause an accordion effect with the first four. But on Saturday, the national Democratic Party moved to enforce party rules and block the move, with the party’s rules and bylaws committee voting unanimously, in a meeting in Washington, to strip all national convention delegates from Florida should it persist in the move.
That would turn the Florida primary, at least on the Democratic side, into nothing more than a so-called beauty contest, since presidential nominations are decided by who wins the majority of national convention delegates. The Democrats have given Florida 30 days to come up with another plan before permanently deleting the Florida delegation to the convention in Denver next summer.
While these maneuverings go on, even more significant maneuverings are taking place around the latest Iraq policy. Everyone awaits the report of General David Petraeus on the state of progress –or lack of same– in Iraq, and meanwhile serious moves are already underway in the intelligence community, the Pentagon, and the presidential field itself around the definition of this situation of paramount importance to the presidential race.
Late last week, the US director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, delivered the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (pdf file). It’s a snapshot of a glass that is, at best, half-full.
At the end of the week, reports emerged that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General and Vietnam War hero Peter Pace, wants to cut the number of US troops in Iraq by as much as half next year. His reported reasoning? The military is worn after years of operations, overstretched by the slow pace of progress in Iraq, and not ready should another challenge emerge.
And word came from Hillary Clinton’s campaign, always a reliable weather vane on such matters, that perhaps the surge isn’t going so well after all. This, after seeming to say in her speech to the VFW last Monday, that the surge was succeeding. While nonetheless continuing to call for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
It’s enough to make one suspect that there is politics afoot in the presidential campaign.
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